The gallbladder is a pear-shaped digestive organ located on the right side of the abdomen. It stores and releases bile for fat digestion. When inflamed, it can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and fever.

The gallbladder connects to the liver by a duct. If a stone blocks this duct, bile backs up, causing the gallbladder to become inflamed. This is known as acute cholecystitis.

The gallbladder swells and becomes red during a bout of inflammation, and the buildup of fluid in the organ can develop a secondary infection.

This article identifies the symptoms of a gallbladder infection and how to treat the condition.

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Gallbladder inflammation can occur as a result of gallstones.

The most common symptoms of gallbladder inflammation are:

  • Upper-right quadrant pain: This pain often has a sudden onset, often occurring shortly after a high-fat meal. It may start just above the bellybutton but will eventually settle under the edge of the ribcage on the right side of the abdomen, around the location of the gallbladder.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Fats cannot be broken down for digestion due to the obstructed bile duct, resulting in a lack of appetite, feelings of nausea, and vomiting.
  • Fever: A fever over 100 °Fahrenheit (37.8 °Celsius) occurs in about one-half of individuals with cholecystitis.
  • Malaise: A person with an inflamed gallbladder may experience a general feeling of discomfort, illness, and uneasiness. Malaise is a common complaint with many illnesses and is often the first indication of inflammation or infection.

Additional gallbladder inflammation symptoms may vary based on age and overall state of health.

Gallbladder pain first presents in the form of spasmodic pains in the abdomen but over time will change to a steady, severe pain that resting, changing position, or using other measures does not resolve. Pain may also occur in the right shoulder or upper-right region of the back.

The pain will intensify over time, especially when taking a deep breath or with any kind of movement. Most people call their doctor within 4 of 6 hours of experiencing this type of pain.

In children and older adults, gallbladder symptoms may be vague. They may not experience pain or fever and complain only of malaise, lack of appetite, and weakness. Some people with gallbladder inflammation encounter a yellow tinge to the skin, known as jaundice. However, this is rare.

In an emergency room, a person with an acutely inflamed gallbladder will usually lie perfectly still on the examining table because the slightest movement can aggravate their pain.

The individual might also tense the abdominal muscles, which will feel similar to a spasm. Tensing these muscles, or guarding, helps protect the inflamed organ from the potential pain of examination.

In some cases, an inflamed gallbladder can rupture and progress to a life-threatening infection called sepsis.

Any individual experiencing symptoms of gallbladder inflammation must seek immediate medical attention to avoid any potentially serious or life-threatening complications.

A surgeon will often remove the gallbladder to prevent the progression of cholecystitis into more severe conditions.

Many gallbladder inflammation cases occur as a result of gallstones. These are small crystal-like masses made up of bile pigments, cholesterol, and calcium salts.

Roughly 10 to 15 percent of Americans have gallstones, and as many as one-third of these people will develop inflammation. Gallstones do not usually cause symptoms on their own.

The risk of gallbladder inflammation increases with age. Other risk factors include:

  • being female
  • pregnancy
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • a history of gallstones
  • rapid weight loss

Tackling gallbladder inflammation is vital for preventing the development of any potentially fatal complications.